Halloween, as we know it has been a tradition in our country for many years, but have you ever wondered where it came from. Celts, or people from the area of Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern France around 2000 years ago had their new year as November 1st. So that meant that the end of the year for them, the time when the harvest was over and the start of the long cold winter was October 31st.
Due to the facts that many people died in the winter, and the people were so dependent on the natural world, they believed that this day the boundary between the living world and the dead opened up. On this day the dead could invade the world of the living and priests would be able to predict the future and talk to the dead more easily. They would dress up and at a large central bonfire pay homage to the Celtic deities, sacrificing animals to the gods. They would also try to tell each others fortunes while dressed up in the costumes of animal skins and heads.
This festival of sorts was known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in).
Later on after the area had been conquered by the Romans, they combined two Roman holidays with the Celtic one, this occurred over a four hundred year period that the Romans occupied the area. Feralia was the Roman day that they commemorated the passing of the dead in Late October, the other was to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, the origin of our present day bobbing for apples.
In the seventh century, after Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. The celebrations was called All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas and the night before became All-Hallows Eve, eventually becoming our Halloween.
Trick or Treating has it’s origins in a tradition in England, called the All Souls’ Day parade. During the festivities of the day, the poor would beg for food from the residents and those better off. They would be given soul cakes, little pastries and were asked to pray for the souls of the relatives of the ones who gave the cakes away. The practice which was sanctioned by the church as a replacement for the ancient practice of leaving out food and wine for the roaming spirits was soon referred to as “going-a-souling”. Children soon took this practice up, leave it to kids, to get food, ale and money from neighbors.
Wearing costumes comes from both Celtic and European heritage, dressing up was thought to make the wearer unrecognizable to the ghosts of the dead. The dead would confuse them with other spirits, and to further protect themselves, people would leave bowls of food outside their doors to appease the ghosts.
When immigrants came to America, the tradition continued with a few twists, adding mostly due to the varying beliefs of the groups in different areas and with different religious convictions. The merging of separate groups of religion, nationality and even Native American traditions changed the All-Hallows-Eve into more of a party for the harvests of the year and a celebration to honor the dead.
At the turn of the century, 1900, the government and newspapers encouraged people to have more of a celebration and less of the ghoulish and frightening aspects of Halloween. Parades and festivities were encouraged and over the years a national holiday emerged. Sometime between 1920 and 1950 the tradition of trick or treating was revived, thought of as a way for the whole community to share the holiday traditions.
The Jack O’Lantern got it’s origin from a popular tale from Ireland. The story goes that a man named Jack was very stingy, an old miserable drunk who liked to play tricks. One day he even played a trick on the Devil, he got him to climb a tree and when the Devil was up in the tree he placed crosses all around the tree, the Devil could not get down. Jack made the Devil promise that when he died, the Devil would not take his soul. The Devil promised, and years later when Jack died, the Devil kept his promise. After Jack was denied entry to Heaven for his miserable life and mean tricks, he met the Devil in Hell where the Devil told him he could not enter. Jack was now scared, he would forever walk the dark areas between Heaven and Hell, The devil gave him an ember from the fires of Hell to light his way, were Jack put it in a hollowed out Turnip, which he always carried as it was his favorite food. Thus the tradition today of putting a light in a hollowed out Turnip, wait that’s not right. It would not make sense to put it in a Turnip, they’re too small. In Ireland the Irish would place a candle in hollowed out turnips, gourds, rutabagas,potatoes and even beets to ward off stingy Jack. When Irish immigrants arrived in America, they discovered the pumpkin, and found it could be hollowed out and carved much easier than the smaller vegetables.
We get both the tradition of pumpkin carving and pumpkin pie from Native Americans. The native Americans had a staple food before the first settlers arrived in America, the pumpkin. They got this plant from South and Central America, where seeds have been found dating back thousands of years. The immigrants who arrived soon used the pumpkin in many dishes including one that they would scoop out the seeds and gunk from inside and bake it with milk honey and spices and then eat it, thus the pumpkin pie is born.
Thus most of our traditions of Halloween do not come from America at all, they all have their origins from overseas in both religious and spiritual beliefs. The day of Halloween is not about the dead or pranks to pull on other people but about the end of the harvest and the warm part of the year. The remembering and honoring the dead is not done by any one nationality or people, but by many. Most people in one way or another honor and remember the people they loved and knew. Halloween is just a day that we can celebrate the people of the past and help to keep their memories alive.